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Diverging now (as if his quest had been
Some secret of the mountains, cavern, fall
Of water, or some lofty eminence,
Renowned for splendid prospect far and wide)
We scaled, without a track to ease our steps,
A steep ascent; and reached a dreary plain,
With a tumultuous waste of huge hill tops
Before us; savage region! which I paced
Dispirited: when, all at once, behold!
Beneath our feet, a little lowly vale,
A lowly vale, and yet uplifted high
Anong the mountains; even as if the spot
Had been from eldest time by wish of theirs
So placed, to be shut out from all the world !
Urn-like it was in shape, deep as an urn;
With rocks encompassed, save that to the south
Was one small opening, where a heath-clad ridge
Supplied a boundary less abrupt and close;
A quiet treeless nook, with two green fields,
A liquid pool that glittered in the sun,
And one bare dwelling; one abode, no more !
It seemed the home of poverty and toil,
Though not of want: the little fields, made green
By husbandry of many thrifty years,
Paid cheerful tribute to the moorland house.
- There crows the cock, single in his domain :
The small birds find in spring no thicket there
To shroud them; only from the neighbouring vales
The cuckoo, straggling up to the hill tops,
Shouteth faint tidings of some gladder place.
Ah! what a sweet Recess, thought I, is here ! Instantly throwing down my limbs at ease Upon a bed of heath ;-full many a spot Of hidden beauty have I chanced to espy Among the mountains; never one like this; So lonesome, and so perfectly secure; Not melancholy-no, for it is green,
And bright, and fertile, furnished in itself
With the few needful things that life requires.
-In rugged arms how softly does it lie,
How tenderly protected! Far and near
We have an image of the pristine earth,
The planet in its nakedness : were this
Man's only dwelling, sole appointed seat,
First, last, and single, in the breathing world,
It could not be more quiet: peace is here
Or nowhere; days unruffled by the gale
Of public news or private ; years that pass
Forgetfully; uncalled upon to pay
The common penalties of mortal life,
Sickness, or accident, or grief, or pain.
On these and kindred thoughts intent I lay In silence musing by my Comrade's side, He also silent; when from out the heart Of that profound abyss a solemn voice, Or several voices in one solemn sound, Was heard ascending ; mournful, deep, and slow The cadence, as of psalms—a funeral dirge! We listened, looking down upon the hut, But seeing no one: meanwhile from below The strain continued, spiritual as before ; And now distinctly could I recognise These words :- Shall in the grave thy love be known, In death thy faithfulness ?'—“God rest his soul ! " Said the old man, abruptly breaking silence, “ He is departed, and finds peace at last !”
This scarcely spoken, and those holy strains
Not ceasing, forth appeared in view a band
Of rustic persons, from behind the hut
Bearing a coffin in the midst, with which
They shaped their course along the sloping side
Of that small valley, singing as they moved;
A sober company and few, the men
Bare-headed, and all decently attired !
Some steps when they had thus advanced, the dirge
Ended ; and, from the stillness that ensued
Recovering, to my Friend I said, “You spake,
Methought, with apprehension that these rites
Are paid to Him upon whose shy retreat
This day we purposed to intrude.”—“I did so,
But let us hence, that we may learn the truth :
Perhaps it is not he but some one else
For whom this pious service is performed ;
Some other tenant of the solitude.”
So, to a steep and difficult descent Trusting ourselves, we wound from crag to crag, Where passage could be won; and, as the last Of the mute train, behind the heathy top Of that off-sloping outlet, disappeared, I, more impatient in my downward course, Had landed upon easy ground; and there Stood waiting for my Comrade. When behold An object that enticed my steps aside! A narrow, winding, entry opened out Into a platform—that lay, sheepfold-wise, Enclosed between an upright mass of rock And one old moss-grown wall ;-a cool recess, And fanciful ! For where the rock and wall Met in an angle, hung a penthouse, framed By thrusting two rude staves into the wall And overlaying them with mountain sods; To weather-fend a little turf-built seat Whereon a full-grown man might rest, nor dread The burning sunshine, or a transient shower; But the whole plainly wrought by children's hands! Whose skill had thronged the floor with a proud show Of baby-houses, curiously arranged ; Nor wanting ornament of walks between, With mimic trees inserted in the turf, And gardens interposed. Pleased with the sight,
I could not choose but beckon to my Guide,
Who, entering, round him threw a careless glance
Impatient to pass on, when I exclaimed,
“Lo! what is here?” and, stooping down, drew forth
A book, that, in the midst of stones and inoss
And wreck of party-coloured earthen-ware,
Aptly disposed, had lent its help to raise
One of those petty structures. “His it must be!"
Exclaimed the Wanderer, “cannot but be his,
And he is gone!” The book, which in my hand
Had opened of itself (for it was swoln
With searching damp, and seemingly had lain
To the injurious elements exposed
From week to week,) I found to be a work
In the French tongue, a Novel of Voltaire,
His famous Optimist. “Unhappy Man!”
Exclaimed my Friend : “here then has been to him
Retreat within retreat, a sheltering-place
Within how deep a shelter! He had fits,
Even to the last, of genuine tenderness,
And loved the haunts of children: here, no doubt,
Pleasing and pleased, he shared their simple sports,
Or sate companionless; and here the book,
Left and forgotten in his careless way,
Must by the cottage-children have been found :
Heaven bless them, and their inconsiderate work!
To what odd purpose have the darlings turned
This sad memorial of their hapless friend !”.
“ Me,” said I, “most doth it surprise, to find Such book in such a place !”—“ A book it is," He answered,“ to the Person suited well, Though little suited to surrounding things : 'Tis strange, I grant; and stranger still had been To see the Man who owned it, dwelling here, With one poor shepherd, far from all the world !Now, if our errand hath been thrown away, As from these intimations I forebode,
Grieved shall I be-less for my sake than yours, And least of all for him who is no more.”
By this, the book was in the old Man's hand; And he continued, glancing on the leaves An eye of scorn :-" The lover,” said he,“ doomed To love when hope hath failed him—whom no depth Of privacy is deep enough to hide, Hath yet his bracelet or his lock of hair, And that is joy to him. When change of times Hath summoned kings to scaffolds, do but give The faithful servant, who must hide his head Henceforth in whatsoever nook he may, A kerchief sprinkled with his master's blood, And he too hath his comforter. How poor, Beyond all poverty how destitute, Must that Man have been left, who, hither driven, Flying or seeking, could yet bring with him No dearer relique, and no better stay, Than this dull product of a scoffer's pen, Impure conceits discharging from a heart Hardened by impious pride -I did not fear To tax you with this journey :"-mildly said My venerable Friend, as forth we stepped Into the presence of the cheerful light“For I have knowledge that you do not shrink From moving spectacles ;—but let us on.”
So speaking, on he went, and at the word
I followed, till he made a sudden stand :
For full in view, approaching through a gate
That opened from the enclosure of green fields
Into the rough uncultivated ground,
Behold the Man whom he had fancied dead !
I knew from his deportment, mien, and dress,
That it could be no other ; a pale face,
A meagre person, tall, and in a garb
Not rustic-dull and faded like himself !
He saw us not, though distant but few steps ;